Constantino Maunga is a combination guide, host, master of ceremonies and chamber of commerce director for his hometown of Kawaza Village, in Zambia. As such, he has become a pretty important figure in his community … something that he hints might not have occurred after he dropped out of school.
Kawaza Village is a real African village, with mud huts and chickens running around in the dirt and old men sitting around a fire talking and women using branches to sweep the grounds in the early morning. But it has one crucial difference: Kawaza takes visitors, mostly from Europe and a few from the United States, and lets them immerse themselves in traditional village life.
Most visitors just stay for the day, but the more adventurous spend the night as well. They can help the women cook the dinner that will be eaten on the floor of the open winter hut, sleep in a hut under mosquito netting -- and best of all, join about a hundred folks from Kawaza and a half-dozen nearby villages -- in a dust-pounding, drum-beating dance at which Maunga serves as emcee.
Even for those who don't stay the night, Maunga puts on a terrific tour -- to an intervillage soccer game, to the medical clinic, to the local moonshiner (pretty good corn liquor, by the way) and a traditional healer (I could taste the male potency powder for the next three days).
The final stop is a visit to the local school. It is a typical southern African elementary/junior high school: underfunded, bare light bulbs, torn books, hard working teachers and proud students voluntarily choosing to wear white shirts and ties. We watched the morning assembly, complete with prayer, the national anthem and a lecture given by a stern headmaster -- a flashback to the way American schools used to be.
The morning assembly completed, we were ushered into the unlit office of the same headmaster. Talking with adults, he was far more affable but just as single-minded. He set out for us a list of the school's needs, from textbooks to sporting goods to a VCR
This, too, was part of the Kawaza Village experience.
Fifteen years ago, a local tourist lodge and travel company, Robin Pope Safaris, teamed with nearby Kawaza Village in a unusual venture. Pope would promote visits and overnight stays at Kawaza Village. The village would in turn, in exchange for being good hosts, not only earn revenues from hospitality fees but also get a chance to meet with foreign visitors directly (rather than merely wave as they drove by) and, with luck, convince them to make donations to Kawaza School.
The idea not only worked, but it has been imitated elsewhere. Several hundred miles away near Lusaka, Chaminuka Lodge, founded by Andrew Sardanis and his wife, Danae -- he was a major figure in the independence of Zambia -- has also adopted its nearby village. And in the south, outside Livingstone and not far from Victoria Falls, at the Victorian and elegant River Lodge, Natasha Tilley manages a similar program for Simonga Village.
Meanwhile, in the countryside, 75 miles outside Lusaka, one of the living saints of Africa, Moses Zulu, has built Children's Town, a combination school, home and working farm for AIDS orphans. I helped tell Moses' story last year in the PBS miniseries "The New Heroes," and stopping by Children's Town was one of the high points of this year's trip to Africa (my son, Tad, is also doing his Eagle Scout project with Moses).